Friday, 1 October 2010

Conflict again

Mike Fleetham, ex-engineer, ex assistant headteacher, trainer, inspirer and author sends me thought provocations every now and then. I think it's always accidental. Yesterday he sent me this.....

“A court in India has said that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya should be split between Hindus and Muslims, but both sides plan to appeal”

Therein lies humanity's total problems

I blogged ages ago about a story Mike has in one of his books about a frog eating a snake that was eating the same frog (in a loop) as a metaphor for conflict. It reminded me of that. One eating the other eating the other in a futile exercise of destruction, unable to grasp the concept of its futility and so carrying on with dogged determination.

From afar, when you are not embroiled in the intense emotion, this kind of situation can send one into a despondent marvelling at the ridiculousness of conflict. Obviously it’s easy to rise above these things when one is not directly involved and its impacts potentially felt daily - when you are completely impartial. But it did provoke thought – like Mike is in the habit of doing - but it won't necessarily be jump ship now if you like concrete things that make absolute's see....

In my opinion we are, generally, a bit rubbish at truly respectfully agreeing to disagree (a slightly tenuous way of describing the above situation I know - as this disagreement has culminated in a territorial argument - but it originated from difference and disagreement) We are not great at accepting that someone else just thinks differently, holds different values, opinions or beliefs or tunes into situations in a different way. Why is that? What bothers us when someone else does not agree with us - especially if it's someone we respect? (Obviously if they are holding us at gunpoint and demanding that we agree with them - that might bother us.)

We are encouraged to make up our own minds and form our own opinions. I’m all for that. But then you get lots of different opinions and rarely find consensus.

But lots of viewpoints is good isn't it? A big thinking pot mulling ideas about - enjoying ideas, thinking, challenging, tempering extreme views (that might one day not seem extreme) and making ideas more likely to be fully formed and well considered - yes?. (Actually it's a wonder we do ever move in any direction! It's not just scientifically proven facts that we act on to change societal views - is it?)

There was a time in history when religion made lots of people think and believe the same (or similar) thing. Religion did an effective job of making the majority believe the same thing. Within one community, when there is consensus there appears to be harmony - doesn't there? Is that proof that we are just so uneasy with having different views?

So now I ask. Are we aiming for easy harmony through agreement (which might, ironically, be what drives us to strive sometimes aggressively for agreement) or more tolerance with conflict? Surely the latter if we are to accommodate lots of different viewpoints comfortably.

So how do we do that?

Would the Muslims and Hindus be more willing to make the suggested compromise if they had not arrived at a point of hating each other through centuries of refusing to agree to disagree respectfully?

Now I am just annoying myself. I think Mike should wait a while before sending me any more things to think about. Might one of you rescue me from myself?


  1. The older I get, the more I know for a fact, we all want to believe exactly what we each want to believe.

    Some try to convince others that theirs is the only way, and others are evolved enough to know that we are each believing what we want to believe and not trying to convince others.

  2. I'm using an Etch-eh-Sketch to draw out my continuum of agree-ed-ness. It's four squares, bottom left is 'disagree to disagree', top left is 'agree to disagree', bottom right is 'disagree to agree', and top right is of course 'agree to agree'. On the 'Z' axis is logic, positive values are up, negative down. I think I want to be high in the center of it all.

  3. I suppose that 'disagree to disagree' is similar to 'agree to agree', but the latter is more agreeable.

  4. EG...I like that...sort of. I might try to convince someone that racism was wrong, for example -I would not be able to help myself - but as to everyone's different paths in life...

    I used to spend hours with an etch-a-sketch as a child. Not sure what that illustrates. made me laugh and ponder and then want to try and draw a meaningful diagram (!) and then I thought it would just be best to have a cup of tea.

    I disagree to disagree or agree to agree. Although I might start a war.


  5. The problem with agreeing to disagree is that if everyone did it, we'd all be in the same boat as if everyone agreed. Life would be dull and humanity would not progress. It is the very nature of conflict and its resolution that makes humans such a successful species, it constantly forces us to push boundaries and better our understanding of the world and the people in it.

    The problem with religious disagreements is that they fundamentally can't ever reach agreement and neither 'side' can ever be proven 'right' (to paraphrase Douglas Adams - religion requires faith and faith requires a lack of proof). Religious arguments, therefore, can only continue to escalate unless we learn to put those differences aside.

    Disagreements are great. Killing each other over them is when we let ourselves down.

  6. Ah Andy C - very well put! I had a bit about progression that I deleted in the original post - because I was diverging so much - I really was doing my own head in.

    I had a further debate today about 'progress' and how it happens considering the range of viewpoints. What makes collective consciousness (the middle of the bell curve)move/change exactly? We considered how some collective views can hinge on power and fear (e.g. Hitler). But benign progression e.g. anti-racism, prejudice. human rights ideals etc comes of serious time spent mulling collectively and a slow movement in the right direction - doesn't it? A luxury of our basic needs being met and a slow move up Maslow's hierarchy.

    Disagreements are great - yes - but like you say - not so if we kill each other over them, but also not great if we cannot receive any learning from them because we cannot even bring ourselves to try to see where the other view might be coming from.

    When it gets to killing...agreeing to disagree respectfully is preferable!

    Do you still drink in the Fat Cat?

  7. Ah now I am Sunday morning fresh.
    Yes it's clear to me now.

    Agreeing, disagreeing - all great. It's just about how it is done. Simple. Thank you Andy C

  8. Hehe, but now you've got me pondering on that bell curve and what exactly makes us change our "truth", why can we be persuaded on some subjects but never others? Much to ponder upon!

    Been ages since I was in the Fat Cat, really must revisit it some time.


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